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What if My Pet Outlives Me?

By: Gregory Herman-Giddens, JD, LLM, TEP, CFP®

Many of us have spent considerable time planning for the care of our spouse and/or children in the event of our deaths or if we become ill or incapacitated. However, since we usually assume we will outlive them, we often forget to provide for other important household members: our pets.

In order to ensure your pet is adequately provided for after your death or disability, you will likely need more than a promise from a friend or family member. Your chosen caregiver may not have the time or resources to follow through on the promise when their services are needed.

Fortunately, your estate plan can set aside money and include the instructions necessary to adequately provide for your pet in the event of your death or disability.

How to Provide for Your Pet

To make sure your pet is adequately provided for, an estate planning attorney can include a provision in your Will or draw up a special trust or other document to specifically address the care of your pet. Before consulting with the attorney, you should:

  • Consider whom you would like to care for your pets, including partners, parents, adult children or other family members and friends who know your pet and have experience caring for other pets.
  • If you have more than one pet, decide whether you would like the pets to stay together or if you would rather separate them among caregivers.
  • You should also name alternative caregivers, in case your first choice is unable to help.
  • Once you have chosen caregivers and alternates, you should discuss your wishes with them. 
  • Be sure the caregivers are aware of your pet’s needs, such as a special diet or any health concerns.

Benefits of Creating a Pet Trust

While provisions in your Will allow you to set aside money and name caregivers, relying on your Will to provide for your pet has some drawbacks. Wills are only operable at death. If you are disabled or incapacitated, your Will has no effect. Further, it may take several weeks from the date of death for the court to approve a Will. During this time, your pet could be neglected.

For these reasons, you should consider creating a Pet Trust, in addition to or instead of Will provisions, to ensure your wishes concerning your pet are carried out.

Florida, along with many other states, has enacted laws that allow pet owners to create Pet Trusts. Just as in a Will, your Trust can name caregivers and alternates, include specific instructions on how to care for your pet and set aside the assets necessary to carry out your wishes.

Unlike a Will, you can decide when your Pet Trust will become effective. If, for example, you experience a lengthy disability or hospital stay, your caregiver may immediately begin taking care of your pet using the money you transferred into trust.

Further, assets held by a trust are not subject to probate. Therefore, at your death, the money you put in trust for your pet will not be used to pay other expenses of your estate and will be immediately available for the care of your pet.

Provisions can be Simple or Complex

If a trust seems too complex, you can simply designate someone to care for your pet, and give them some money to help with expenses associated with the pet. As an example, a paragraph in your Will could state:

“I give my pet dog Rover to my sister Mary Smith, along with the sum of $10,000 to be used for Rover’s care.”

This solution is best when giving smaller amounts and little instructions for care. On the other hand, for more complex provisions, a trust is best. I have a client whose estate plan provides for his $1 million house to be held in trust so that his dog can stay in the same home. All expenses of the home will be paid by the trust, and the dog’s caretaker is expected to live in the house. Of course, it is a nice place to live at no cost! And the caretaker gets a stipend as well.

Where to Start

If you are concerned about what will happen to your pet in the event you are no longer able to provide for your pet’s care, consult with an estate planning attorney about drafting a Pet Trust, along with a Will with provisions for your pet. You can then have the peace of mind of knowing that you have done everything possible for your pet’s welfare.

If you have any questions or would like to establish a Pet Trust, I may be reached at gregory.herman-giddens@henlaw.com or by phone at 239-344-1240.